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Kathleen Ruff is senior human rights adviser to the Rideau Institute and author of Exporting Harm: How Canada Markets Asbestos to the Developing World.
In the space of three weeks, the political support the Quebec asbestos industry has enjoyed for decades from the Quebec and Canadian governments came crashing down.
It could hardly have been more politically dramatic or more financially devastating for the tottering, bankrupt Quebec asbestos industry. After 130 years in operation, the last two asbestos mines in Quebec — the Jeffrey mine in the town of Asbestos and the mine run by LAB Chrysotile at Thetford Mines — shut down more than a year ago in the face of catastrophic financial and environmental problems.
Both mines, however, clutched to hopes of resurrection, nurtured by a $58-million loan given to the Jeffrey mine by former premier Jean Charest just before he called the recent Quebec election, as well as by the undying political support that Prime Minister Stephen Harper swore to give to the asbestos industry during the 2011 federal election campaign.
Things fell apart for the asbestos industry when, near the end of the Quebec campaign, Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois promised to cancel Charest’s $58-million loan and instead give financial support to help the asbestos mining region diversify its economy. Asbestos is an industry of the past, Marois said, pointing to evidence put forward by Quebec’s own medical authorities that asbestos is deadly and should no longer be mined.
Three weeks later, on Sept. 14, before the new PQ government had even been sworn into office, the federal government put the final nail in the industry’s coffin. Christian Paradis, Harper’s Quebec lieutenant and the asbestos industry’s biggest cheerleader, announced — in his own riding of Thetford Mines — that Ottawa had concluded the industry was finished in Quebec and would provide $50 million for economic diversification instead of asbestos mining.
Paradis also announced that the government would cease blocking the listing of chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substance under the UN Rotterdam Convention, as it has done since 2006.
It’s not often the Harper government backs down on any issue. No one should rejoice, however, that this sudden reversal might have been triggered by a new enlightened acceptance of scientific evidence or a desire to prevent further asbestos deaths. It was instead a cynical game of realpolitik.
Paradis accused Marois of destroying the economic well-being of the region by killing the asbestos industry. This delinquent act had forced the federal government to abandon its support of an industry that would no longer exist, he said.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1260844–the-belated-demise-of-canada-s-asbestos-industry